Project Self-Sufficiency has offered a variety of workplace training programs since its inception 30 years ago, from pre-apprenticeship training for non-traditional careers to fiber optics to office skills. The organization’s latest initiative, Project Café, marries its longstanding focus on workplace excellence with curriculum designed to train students of all ages in the skills needed to successfully navigate a commercial kitchen. The program was cooked up after the donation of a commercial oven by longtime Project Self-Sufficiency supporters Sue and Greg Murphy, followed by input from local chefs Andre de Waal and Kirk Avondoglio. Financial support was gleaned from a wide range of donors and philanthropic organizations. The kitchen will make use of the produce harvested from the seven community gardens on the expansive Project Self-Sufficiency campus. Community members who might be in need of a commercial kitchen can also take advantage of the space to create their own culinary projects. Plans are in the works to offer daily meals at nominal costs to local residents, students and Project Self-Sufficiency participants and staff.
“We had heard about some of the good work that Project Self-Sufficiency had been doing in the community and when we sat down with Deborah Berry-Toon to discuss her goals, this project came up.” offered Project Café supporter Kristi Adams. “We thought Project Café was a great way to expand additional job-training services as well as a way for Project Self-Sufficiency to engage with the community a bit more.” Initial plans for the culinary program revolve around workplace training. Eventually, organizers hope to be able to provide meals at a nominal charge for members of the community.
Local chefs Andre de Waal and Kirk Avondoglio provided instrumental insight into the workings of a commercial kitchen. “I gave them advice about the layout of a commercial kitchen,” noted Andre’s Lakeside Dining owner and Executive Chef de Waal, who is looking forward to helping with the instruction of future Project Café students. Avondoglio added that he offered guidance regarding equipment needs and Board of Health requirements. “There will always be a need for well-trained staff in a restaurant,” explained Avondoglio, Executive Chef at Perona Farms. “This definitely fills a need in the community.”
“Project Café is an innovative program that will provide hands-on-training and experience to unemployed adults in the county who want to enter the hospitality industry,” added Project Self-Sufficiency supporter Peggy Post. “We are delighted to have been able to support Project Self-Sufficiency with this project and their continuing mission to help individuals and families in Northwest New Jersey to achieve self-sufficiency and economic stability.”
According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant industry employment is growing at a quick clip. The industry is the second-largest private sector employer in the United States. By 2027, the industry will add 1.6 million more jobs. As an institution which already trains potential employees for a variety of workplaces, Project Self-Sufficiency is poised to take advantage of this employment trend notes Executive Director Deborah Berry-Toon. “With a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen in place on our campus, Project Self-Sufficiency will be able to provide all aspects of training for restaurant industry employment. We are looking forward to partnering with our colleagues at Sussex County Community College to develop a comprehensive curriculum, and we are grateful to all of those who have worked so diligently to develop this facility.”
“This collaboration with Project Self-Sufficiency is a real advancement for our culinary program,” explained Dr. Jon Connelly, President, Sussex County Community College. “Opportunities to work in this kitchen will allow our students to practice in a realistic setting that they may experience in catering and conference-event contexts. In addition, as a result of the onsite gardens at Project Self-Sufficiency, students can practice some principles used in the garden-to-plate models of the food industry.”
Using fresh, organic produce harvested directly from the community gardens at Project Self-Sufficiency is just one of the goals for Project Café. Front Porch Organics owner Mary Hyde donated produce for the ribbon-cutting event and is looking forward to helping with cooking classes and nutrition education once Project Café gets underway. “At Front Porch Organics, our goal is to provide healthy, nutritious, organic food to as many people as possible and to help the community. When you really believe in something, you want to help,” noted Hyde, who has been a Project Self-Sufficiency supporter for many years. “Project Self-Sufficiency doesn’t just put a bandage on the problem, they help fix it by helping people get back on their feet, get the training they need, and get back to work.”
Funding for the project was received from The Prigmore Family Foundation; Janet and Frank Allocca; Frances Gould Naftal and Marvin Naftal, Flatbrook Farm; Front Porch Organics; Beverly and Bruce Gordon; Sue and Greg Murphy; and Margaret and John Post.
Project Self-Sufficiency is a non-profit organization which has been assisting low-income families in northwestern New Jersey along the path to economic self-sufficiency since 1986. Services include career guidance and assessment, computer classes, HSE instruction, parenting workshops, childcare, legal assistance and education, help with emergency basic needs such as clothing and food, health education, support groups, life skills classes, family activities, home visitation, and more. For more information about Project Café, or any of the other programs and services offered by Project Self-Sufficiency, visit www.projectselfsufficiency.org or call 973-940-3500 or 844-807-3500.